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Leo Burnett Company, Limited
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Cannes Preview: “Arabs Be Like: The Modern Middle East" with Yousef Tuqan

The Middle East is a diverse place and making generalizations about it won’t do brands or marketers any good. Yousef Tuqan, chief innovation officer for Leo Burnett MENA, will shed some light on the culture in his talk “Arabs Be Like: The Modern Middle East.” Yousef will break down the inherent contradictions of the Middle East and discuss how regional and global brands are taking different approaches — some successful, some not — to connecting with the Modern Arab audience.

The talk will take place Wednesday, June 24, from 2:15 – 2:45 p.m. at Audi A at the Palais des Festivals. Find out more here.

In the meantime, learn a bit more on this subject in our Q&A with Yousef:

What’s the one thing most marketers get wrong about the Middle East?

A simplistic view is the biggest mistake they can make, e.g. “all Arabs are the same” or “they are all religious.” It’s key for brands to anchor their marketing messages in genuine human insight. Some of them may apply across the region, but there is so much nuance from place to place, and from person to person.

Where is the biggest opportunity for marketers in the region?

The social and mobile space. Despite the incredible adoption of social and mobile channels (digital media accounts for 27 percent of time spent by consumers), it accounts for only 9 percent of advertising spend. There’s a tremendous opportunity for marketers to build meaningful engagement and relationships in these uncluttered spaces.

You’ve mentioned that the Middle East is full of inherent contradictions from a technological standpoint — for instance, censorship of the internet exists alongside the largest mobile phone penetration in the world. What kind of consumer is then produced by this type of environment?

Marketers today are speaking to an “Arab Digital Generation” that has grown up in the Internet age, with a freedom of speech and freedom of knowledge that was inconceivable 10 years ago. A growing number of Arab youth are embracing modern values, but their beliefs are still rooted in tradition. In the 2014 Arab Youth Survey, for example, 46% believe that “Traditional values are outdated and belong in the past. I am keen to embrace modern values and beliefs.” And 54% believe that “Traditional values mean a lot to me, and ought to be preserved for generations to come” — that’s an almost even split in attitude amongst today’s youth.

What does the future of advertising look like in the region? Where will we be in ten years?

There is a dramatic “youth bulge” across the region. In Saudi Arabia, 55% of the population is under 25. In Egypt, that number is 75%. What we have is an Arab Digital Generation that has grown up with their eyes wide open, exposed to the outside world, and not used to traditional media. This provides advertisers with a wonderful canvas to communicate to 300 million people united by a single language that is so rich and diverse. I think the most successful brands will be the ones who are able to craft nuanced, individual stories that touch each of those 300 million people.